Look, I wasn’t expecting a thought-provoking, dramatic action film that explores the inner psyche of a hitman. I would say giving a Jason Statham movie 2 stars out of 5 is pretty damn good for this type of film. I’m not trying to be elitist about this either because although I may not rush out and see every jock-targeted action movie, I see a good share of these films every year and many of them I do enjoy. These types of movies are pure entertainment. So long as you’re ok with checking your brain at the door and not asking too many questions about the whys and whats of a plotline, you’ll be ok. At the same time, however, I don’t like it when a filmmaker takes too many shortcuts or engages in lazy storytelling to a point where the audience notices it and becomes distracted by it. Considering how much bullshit I am expected to swallow when watching these films, the filmmaker should maintain at least some modicum of plausibility if for nothing else than to extend a little respect and gratitude to his audience for paying to see his movie. THE MECHANIC is the kind of film that tries to pull this off, but it ends up with an uneven result that ultimately left me empty and unimpressed.

THE MECHANIC is a remake of a Charles Bronson film thats about Arthur Bishop, a hitman for hire (Jason Statham). He works for some shady outfit run by Dean (Tony Goldwyn) that contracts Bishop out to kill people. The organization Bishop works for is co-run by Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), who is also Bishop’s mentor. When Dean orders Bishop to kill his mentor, Bishop has his doubts at first, but being the professional that he is, he follows orders and kills Harry. Soon after, Bishop meets Harry’s troublemaking son, Steve McKenna (Ben Foster). McKenna has a violent streak in him and he wants to avenge his father’s death. He asks Bishop to teach him how to be like him (NOTE: McKenna has no idea that Bishop killed his father). Bishop reluctantly agrees and trains McKenna and eventually includes him on his assignments. Eventually, Bishop realizes that Dean lied to him about Harry’s betrayal to the organization and that Dean was the real asshole who deserved to be killed. With that, Bishop and McKenna head out to find and kill Dean. I won’t reveal whether McKenna finds out about Bishop killing his father, but given the type of movie this is, it doesn’t take much intelligence to figure the answer to that question.

The biggest problem that plagues this film is inconsistency. For one, no one bothers to explain what this organization is about that Bishop works for. What does this organization do and why do they do it? Considering very little to no information is given about them, I assume it simply hires bad asses like Bishop to kill anyone for a price. Common sense, if such a thing exists in this world, would dictate that the target shouldn’t matter if the price is right. However, I’m sure because Jason Statham doesn’t want to alienate his fan base, there is no way this film would feature a purely cold-blooded killer who would be willing to kill anyone regardless of whether or not the target is a bad person. So instead, we have an organization that seems to hire Bishop to only kill bad people (a drug lord, a Jim Bakker like preacher, and an arms dealer). Thats cop out bullshit! I don’t mind if the Bishop character has a heart of gold when he’s not on an assignment, which he does (he prevents McKenna from killing a car burglar and he gives a hooker a puppy), but it doesn’t make sense that he only goes after shady people. It would have been cool to see this dichotomy in the character where he’ll take any assignment regardless of what kind of person the target is, but at the same time maintain a moralistic private persona. The film tries to present that by having Bishop kill his mentor, but thats not sufficient and I wish we saw more of that.

Although I knew Bishop was going to be presented as an anti-hero who is more hero than not, for once it would have been cool to have created a character that isn’t like everything else we have seen Statham do. We have seen this type of character way too many times and it would have been refreshing to have seen something edgier and harder. What’s wrong with giving us an uncompromising asshole who likes to screw hookers without giving them cute little puppies or who doesn’t prevent a guy from killing an unarmed car thief? Its not mainstream or conventional, but it certainly doesn’t lack originality and interest. The original Charles Bronson version actually presented a more steely killer than the warmer, fuzzier killer played by Statham. In contrast, Statham ends up being a nice guy you want to have a couple of beers with, which is NOT what a contract killer should be. However, the film does salvage a little bit of what the character promised to be with the same ending that’s contained in the original version.

A welcome character in the film is the McKenna character played by Ben Foster. I was actually a little surprised Foster decided to be in this film after his impressive performance in 2009’s THE MESSENGER. I’m going to assume he did this film to earn an easy paycheck. Regardless of what his intentions were, Foster infuses the film with a little energy and unpredictability that nicely complements the action heroism of Jason Statham. There is one particularly impressive scene where McKenna is sent out on his first solo mission and he takes on a gay hitman. Its one of the best scenes in the film and thats partly due to Foster’s delivery.

Most people who go out and see THE MECHANIC are really not going to give a shit about the story or the acting. When you get right down to it, this film is all about whether it can deliver the action and its the one thing it successfully pulls off. I was a little surprised by the level of violence in the film, but it was a welcome surprise. Director Simon West has cut his teeth making Jerry Bruckheimer-esque action films (CON AIR, TOMB RAIDER). West has a music video style sensibility, which is perfect for a Jason Statham action movie. The action scenes in this film are for the most part exciting and not too cliche. West polishes his film with a bright and colorful palette and sets the story in quasi-exotic locales with a kinetic shooting style that complements Statham’s fighting style. My biggest concern when I watch an action film is for it to feel too much like a video game, rely on too much CG, or fail to convey a sense of danger for its characters. If nothing else, Simon West at least avoids falling into any of these traps.

THE MECHANIC isn’t the best Jason Statham movie, but its also not his worst film. It has its moments and the film moves along at a nice and steady pace. Around this time last year I saw FROM PARIS WITH LOVE with John Travolta and compared to that film, this movie is a fucking masterpiece. In the end, however, there is nothing memorable about THE MECHANIC and its pretty much your standard-issue R-rated action picture about a killer with a soft spot.

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